Why Shalane Flanagan is running Boston Marathon rather than retiring

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Ninety minutes after winning the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5, Shalane Flanagan was unsure if she would, at age 36, continue her competitive distance-running career. The next morning, still, the four-time Olympian hadn’t yet processed what to do after her landmark accomplishment.

But by early December, a month after crossing the Central Park finish line, Flanagan had decided.

“My heart said……give it one more chance, try again,” was posted on her social media Dec. 11. “See everyone in Boston on Patriots Day…”

Two hours earlier, Boston Marathon organizers had announced the elite U.S. runners for the April 16 race that finishes 20 miles southwest of Flanagan’s childhood hometown of Marblehead. Flanagan was first on the list.

“I just kind of visualized on Patriots’ Day, if I were sitting in the stands cheering on people versus standing on the starting line in Hopkinton,” Flanagan said the day after the Boston Marathon field announcement, according to the Boston Globe. “I felt like I would be really sad to be not participating, and I would rather be on the starting line. I don’t want to have any regrets about passing up the opportunity.’’

Flanagan looked to her past, too, in deciding. She found unfinished business. Flanagan finished ninth the last time she ran the Boston Marathon in 2015, in 20 mph winds and rain, after placing fourth and fifth the previous two years.

She revealed in a finish-line interview an unspecified setback three months earlier that jeopardized whether she would start the race.

“I could just tell the pounding, the typical Boston course, my legs felt it,” Flanagan said on Boylston Street in 2015, one year after running the fastest Boston Marathon ever by an American woman in 2:22:02. “I tried to talk them [my legs] out of slowing down, but they didn’t want to listen.”

The emotion was apparent in Flanagan’s tone.

“I was pretty devastated after, because I haven’t had many bad races and it was, by far, one of the bigger stinkers that I’ve laid,” Flanagan said in a Runner’s World story published earlier this spring. “I don’t want to end my career having that be the representation and the feelings associated with Boston. So I just thought, at least let’s end on a higher note than that.”

The last U.S. female runner to win Boston was Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. Flanagan is not alone in trying to end the drought.

The field also includes Jordan Hasay, third in Boston last year in her marathon debut, and Desi Linden, second in Boston in 2011 and fourth in 2015 and 2017. Plus Molly Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m who is running her second marathon after placing third in New York City in 2016.

Flanagan has been quoted saying that she doesn’t have a specific time or result goal. That she’s at peace with her career now that she has a major title. That she isn’t running Boston on April 16 because she has to do it, but because she wants to. What does she want? A new memory in case this is the last time.

“If I walked away tomorrow, I feel really happy as an athlete and as a person,” Flanagan said in a Flotrack interview in January. “There was still that lingering, one little tick in the box that I really, really wanted. I just couldn’t let that go. Once I said yes, though, my mind shifted from enjoying New York a little bit to then, all of a sudden, the burden of Boston.”

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